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The day I jogged with the President

The day I jogged with the President

22 November 1996

So would he, wouldn't he go for an early morning jog ? Just when it seemed that President Clinton may have decided to have a well deserved lie-in after a long day politiking in Canberra and partying on the harbour, he burst from his city centre hotel just after 8am.

With a turn of pace that took most of his White House team by surprise, Mr Clinton cruised up Bridge St, tore down Macquarie St, heading towards the Opera House. Really motoring. No, really. Motoring. Still sitting comfortably in the back of his bullet-proof Cadillac, with the world in close pursuit. For when the President goes jogging, it seems, the whole world goes jogging.

By the time he was stretched and warmed up, hot enough at least to trot, the complete support team had caught up. 2 police motorcycles, 1 police car, 1 intensive care ambulance, 1 ambulance motorcyclist, 2 "black-eye" vans bristling with communications equipment, an assortment of American black and Australian white limousines, and a helicoptor. To be joined later by 2 busloads of White House media photographers.

"How do you feel, Mr President ?" I yelled unoriginally, as the President, wearing red baseball cap, grey T-shirt, black track pants and a pair of expensively serious New Balance shoes, set off through the QE2 gat along the Farm Cove foreshore.

"Great" he replied as he padded along at a gentle pace - say 10 km/h - surrounded by a dozen of his fittest security staff and shadowed at a respectful distance, by a convoy which now comprised one limo and one big black van. "Good" he elaborated "Good".

Except that his staff were reluctant to allow uninvited runners to join the group. Maybe it was the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon T-shirt that spooked them, but they made it clear, painfully clear if necessary - that the President preferred to run alone, or as alone as he could be with half the White House in attendance.

Not good. As Big Bill chugged off, I veered away, did a wide U-turn and returned to assume the less suspect role of "member of the public". On a park bench, I waited patiently to catch Mr Clinton on his return.

Beneath one of the many grassy knolls that must make the Botanic Gardens the secret service's worst nightmare, I sat, watched by big men, in bulky, ill-fitting suits, muttering into their lapels.

10 minutes into the run, a jogger came past from the opposite direction. "How's the PResident looking?" "Like death warmed up" came the reply. Uh oh. Someone better warn Al Gore, the man famously one heart beat away from the top job.

Moments later, a 2nd jogger trotted past. There was no problem, she explained : the President was alive, well on his way back from the direction of Mrs Maquarie's Chair. Cancel that call to Al, guys.

Gini Bouche, an American holidaymaker from Seattle was overjoyed. "Amazing. Just amazing. I've always wanted to see the President. Now, goodness me, I come to Sydney and it happens. My husband, Richard, will be so diappointed. The one morning he stayed in bed".

Like me, Mrs Bouche had asked if she could run with the President "He gestured, like 'sure'. I don't think he could say much. He seemed really out of puff".

So it proved, when I tried to rejoin the Presidential party as it passed on the last few hundred metres of the 20 minute jog. "How you going no sir ?" "good, good" he gasped. Clearly supplementary questions - along the lines of "what do you expect to achieve at the forthcoming APEC meeting?" - would have to wait for another time, another place.

Just how fit is Bill Clinton ? Pretty damn fit for a 50-something with a legendary fondness for food and a kinda stressful job. As an aide explained, after 2 months on the re-election campaign trail, Bill was tempoarily out of condition. "He usually runs 3 or 4 times a week if he can, usually at the White House track or at a place called Fort McNair. But he really hasn't had time lately".

Back at Bennelong Point, Mr Clinton did some more sensible stretching, cooled down and posed for post-jog pictures. Jogabout over, puff restored and clearly invigorated, he went walkabout. He announced to the waiting media that the views were amazing, had a poke around in the herbaceous borders with ranger Ivan Edworthy and, with the world still in attendance, headed to the Opera House.

For mere mortals, going for a jog is more or less just a matter of jumping into a pair of runners. For Mr Clinton, it remains a military - as much as a physical - exercise.

This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald

This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010

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